Totum Consultants Laura McNair and Roisin Ashmore, who recruit across all levels of HR roles, as well as broader positions in general management, recently hosted their second breakfast roundtable for learning and development (L&D) professionals, together with Stephen Newton and Nigel Spencer from Meridian West and Oxford University’s Saïd Business School respectively. They were joined by learning and development (L&D) professionals from a variety of law firms. The agenda for the day was ‘Skills Development for Younger Professionals’, with a particular emphasis on how L&D professionals can support their firms to improve client relationships. Discussion points came from Meridian West’s ‘Business Buyers’ barometer’ research, which explored how far professional service firms are rising to the expectations of savvy C-suite buyers.

The Business Buyers Barometer

According to the research findings, businesses are changing rapidly, resulting in a major realignment in what they expect of their external advisers, including law firms. In many instances, the report concludes, there is a widening gap between what buyers want and what their advisors are delivering. In particular, proactivity and commerciality are areas where advisers consistently score below buyer expectations, while innovation is something that professional service firms talk about, but most don’t deliver real change in their service experience. Most worrying of all, perhaps, the findings also show that trust is falling in professional advisors.

Points for discussion

These findings shaped the day’s agenda:
  • With Meridian West’s research suggesting that client experience is not improving, how can L&D teams help to improve the situation in terms of having an external impact on a firm’s client service?
  • How could L&D assist in rebuilding levels of trust with clients?
  • How is L&D connected internally to gain maximum insight into the client’s world – e.g, to BD, innovation, and senior fee earners/partners?
  • In the 70-20-10 model of learning and development (70% on-the-job learning, 20% developmental relationships, 10% coursework and training), what kind of focus would best impact the client’s experience?
The discussion covered a huge amount of ground, but included recommendations to:
  1. Align a firm’s L&D as closely as possible to the outside world (i.e, to client experiences).
  2. Focus on legal technology, but also develop softer skills like working effectively with other people/teams and approaching innovation more from the perspective of the customer and how they would like to see the legal services delivered differently.
  3. Prioritise getting client feedback (even where partners think they already know their clients) and then sharing those findings with L&D. Also getting feedback from lawyers that go on secondment.
  4. Communicate more effectively with clients, particularly in respect to fees and changes to fees.
  5. Become more diverse (for example, recruiting from more varied talent pools).
  6. Make sure individuals are getting regular feedback on performance, not just relying on an annual appraisal.
  7. Sit L&D professionals in practice areas, rather than centrally.
  8. Focus on ways to retain L&D professionals through good training, benefits, career development, etc.
L&D professionals in law can play a significant role in improving the ability of their firms to meet client expectations, both through the development of their own skills and those of individuals across the firm. This event was a very useful opportunity for attendees to share their experiences and thoughts as to how best achieve this. For any L&D professionals from law firms or professional services firms who may be interested in attending our future events, please contact Laura McNair. For more information on recruiting L&D, HR & operational roles, please contact Laura McNair [email protected]